Critical GIS or Geez-I’m-Sad

I found Lake’s article incredibly interesting. Lake highlights critical components of GIS that are usually—in my experience—sidelined, and offers a shift away from the techie, positivist view that GIS practitioners typically (and perhaps unwittingly) hold. Lake makes several claims that sparked many more questions, and ultimately left me with an unsettling feeling; kind of dejected, all “what is all this even good for?”. I’m going to address and expand upon the bits that jumped out at me the most.

Subject-object dualism: Lake details how “the perspective, viewpoint, and ontology of the researcher are separate – and different – from those of the individuals constituting the data points comprising the GIS database,” (p. 408). Further, Lake notes how the data points (individuals) are stripped of their autonomy, becoming passive objects in the practitioners’ project. How can this notion be applied to concepts of VGI, where people are willingly providing their information? Does data derived from VGI or participatory crowdsourcing validate this subject-object dualism? Putting this dualism in a power framework; are the subjects granted more power (think of the Power Law) now? Are their ontologies embedded in the information they provide? I want to read Lake’s (and/or others’) opinions on how this dualism can be circumvented.

Technological mystification: Lake discusses how we reinforce existing structures of influence—undeniably true. GIS disenfranchises the less technically adept. This inherent technological mystification is just another type of mystification. Mystification, I would say, is inherent in pretty much everything—there is bureaucratic mystification of planning in an opaque government, for example, and I don’t see how this is going to be fully eradicated. While trying to make things more open and available to all people, there is inadvertent marginalization of certain groups. Nothing is going to reach everybody all the time—we just need to make effective tools that attempt to reach more people, more frequently. Maybe eventually we will have enough tools to satisfy everyone… We can dream, right?

I unequivocally agree with FischbobGeo’s statement that Lake’s article talks past GIS without engaging it. At certain points, this article could be talking about a whole range of topics. It raises more questions than it answers, and–call me a defeatist–but makes it seem like we will never get it right.



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